More Rethuglican inhumanity

For a party that campaigns on small government and reducing interference in private lives, the Rethuglicans sure are ready to heap more restrictions on women. Look at the consequences of Nebraska’s anti-choice law.

In Nebraska, one law already in existence heaped needless trauma on a mother’s tragedy. Thirty-four-year-old Danielle Deaver was 23 weeks pregnant when she faced a fate “worse than your own death”— her baby would not make it. Her water broke early and, without amniotic fluid, the fetus would not develop lungs to survive outside the womb. Deaver and her husband decided they wanted to let “nature take it’s course” and would not risk harming the child further, so they asked their doctor to help “put an end to this nightmare.”

But because of Nebraska’s law prohibiting any abortion after 20 weeks, the doctor could not assist or he would “face criminal charges, jail time, and lose his medical license.” Her doctors told her “she’d just have to wait.” So she did, in “torture,” and gave birth to Elizabeth at 3pm, watched her gasp for breath, and then watched her die at 3:15pm on December 8, 2010. “The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God,” said Deaver, but “how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should’ve been mine.”

Why, she sounds like some godless liberal atheist who deserved everything she got.

More states, including Minnesota, are considering forcing more women to go through that pain. Fortunately, our Democratic governor has announced his intention to veto any such bill.

Sex on a skateboard!

There is a virtue to Christian prudes. They make me aware of ideas I might otherwise have missed. Conservative evangelical groups in the UK are whining about sex ed books that are too ‘explicit’ for their taste.

Children as young as five are being shown “explicit” images to teach them about sex, an evangelical Christian pressure group has claimed.

The Christian Institute has complained that at least 10 books or teaching packs used in English primary schools for lessons on sex and relationships, contain images or descriptions that are “obviously unsuitable”.

Its report, Too Much, Too Young, criticises, among others, a BBC teaching pack for its images of a nude man and woman and the children’s book Mummy Laid an Egg, by Babette Cole, for its child-like drawings of a man and woman having sex on a skateboard and wearing red noses. The book won British Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year.


Wait…sex, on a skateboard? I have never tried that, but it looks like great fun. I suspect that I’m not supple enough or coordinated enough to try it, though, but I could probably manage the sex while wearing red noses (not shown), however. I’m a little embarrassed that at my advanced age I can still get sex tips from a children’s book.

So thank you, Christianity! Once again, you lead by negative example. If you want more hilarity, though, check out the Amazon reviews.

I was disgusted when I read this book! One could very easily pick this up and start reading it to a child or a child pick it up and start looking at the pictures because the illustrations at the beginning of the book appear to be very innocent and cute!

A few pages into the book, one discovers very graphic and detailed crayon drawings of anatomically correct males and females and how their parts fit together and even positions in which they can fit together. This book should be snatched from all library and bookstore shelves. It’s intent could be nothing more than to … children’s innocent minds. I believe in … education for children, but this is going a little too far

This book written to explain reproduction to little children states that mothers have eggs in their belly buttons and daddy’s have seeds in sacks. It also has silly illustrations of people copulating on skate boards, bouncy balls, and wearing clown hats. I would not recommend this book on any level.

With reviews like that, it’s going straight onto my wishlist.

About that fetal testimony in Ohio…

The fetal test has come and gone with a quiet flop. They didn’t actually have a 5-week pregnant woman to test, and it failed to work for a 9 week fetus.

Two young mothers were given ultrasounds in a packed room at the Statehouse as part of a House committee meeting Wednesday. The heartbeat of a fetus at 15 weeks gestation was easily detected. The heartbeat in a fetus of nine weeks gestation was difficult to detect.

But have no fear! The technology will inevitably improve, and they’ll be able to detect heartbeats earlier and earlier. And then they’ll figure out how to test for expression of heart-specific proteins, and we’ll be able to recognize its presence before it begins to beat. And then some brilliant ideologue will notice that the genes for heart specification are present at fertilization and before, and we’ll be right down to defending every sperm as containing the germ of a beating heart, and deserving of love and protection and reverence, exactly as god intended.

And the heartbeats of women can be ignored again, also as god intended. Shut up, lady! I hear your heart pounding, and the Lord demands your silence!

(via Plunderbund)

Nutjobs in Ohio plan to ask invisible blobs of fetal tissue to speak

This is a 5-week-old human fetus.


It’s an awesomely cool period of development. Organogenesis is well under way, segmentation is completely, limb buds are forming. The heart is beating, which is neat, but then you have to keep in mind that you can tease a heart apart into individual cells in a dish and the cells will throb, so it’s not exactly a magical indicator of sentience. Also, the embryo is only 2-3 millimeters long, which I find to be a highly evocative size: that’s exactly how big my zebrafish embryos are when they have the same level of organization, with segments and organ rudiments and a beating heart.

In Ohio, they are proposing to have these fetuses “testify” in support of an anti-choice bill.

Two fetuses will be presented as witnesses before an Ohio legislative committee that is hearing a bill to outlaw abortions after the first heartbeat can be detected inside a woman’s womb.

The fetuses will appear live and in color before the committee on a video screen projecting ultrasound images taken from their pregnant mothers’ bodies. Janet Folger Porter, head of Faith2Action, an anti-abortion group, said the fetuses will be the youngest witnesses to ever testify when they come in front of the House Health and Aging Committee Wednesday morning.

Oh, really? The legislators might want to read up on first trimester ultrasound, first of all.

Transabdominal ultrasound cannot reliably diagnose pregnancies that are less than 6 weeks gestation. Transvaginal ultrasound, by contrast, can detect pregnancies earlier, at approximately 4½ to 5 weeks gestation. Prompt diagnosis made possible by transvaginal ultrasound can, therefore, result in earlier treatment.

Early ultrasound examinations will primarily detect the presence of the extraembryonic sac, not the embryo itself. It’s too small. Around 5 weeks, you might be able to see a fuzzy small blob with a flutter that is the beating heart, but that’s about it, and you do have to use transvaginal ultrasound to pick it up — that is, you have to insert the ultrasound probe deep into the vagina. That isn’t usually done; any mothers out there will tell you about the gel smeared all over their bellies and the external probe pressed up against them, but the transvaginal examinations are only done if there is suspicion of something going wrong.

So I’ll be very curious to see what these “‘live and in color” images actually look like. I’m already suspicious that they’ll be faked — I can already guarantee you that the color will be entirely false. But maybe someone has a higher resolution ultrasound machine than I’m aware of, which is entirely possible.

But even if they do get a nice image of a curled, fishlike embryo that is maybe a tenth as sharp as the worst images of zebrafish embryos that I see in my low-power dissecting scope, so what? It’s not testifying. It’s twitching. You’d get a more intelligent response if you dragged a cow in front of the committee and asked it to moo against slaughterhouses.

And the bill is ridiculous. They want to prohibit all abortions of embryos that have a detectable heartbeat…but 1) heartbeat isn’t a valid measure of personhood, and 2) pragmatically, it shuts down almost all abortions. The heart starts beating at approximately one month after fertilization; the woman may not have even noticed more than a delayed period at that time, and the early symptoms of some water retention and possibly morning sickness are unreliable. There will be many women who are responsible and want to end a pregnancy as early as possible who will be denied a first trimester abortion because it was too late when they were diagnosed!

Ohioans: bills sponsored by the deranged lunatics really shouldn’t be passed. I’m hoping your lawmakers will realize that during this ginned-up spectacle.

It’s open season on women and doctors out there!

The economy sucks, so why are Republicans making such obnoxious noises over abortion and birth control lately? (That was an entirely rhetorical question, and it’s obvious why: they’ve got no solutions other than feeding the rich some more, so they’re carrying out a massive campaign of distraction.) Look what Nebraska is poised to do!

Last week, South Dakota’s legislature shelved a bill, introduced by Republican state Rep. Phil Jensen, which would have allowed the use of the “justifiable homicide” defense for killings intended to prevent harm to a fetus. Now a nearly identical bill is being considered in neighboring Nebraska, where on Wednesday the state legislature held a hearing on the measure.

The legislation, LB 232, was introduced by state Sen. Mark Christensen, a devout Christian and die-hard abortion foe who is opposed to the prodedure even in the case of rape. Unlike its South Dakota counterpart, which would have allowed only a pregnant woman, her husband, her parents, or her children to commit “justifiable homicide” in defense of her fetus, the Nebraska bill would apply to any third party.

Nebraska: even more fundamentally deranged than South Dakota!

It’s probably not fair to pick on Nebraska, though. It seems women are fair game even in Canada. A judge just let a rapist off because the victim was asking for it, in the coded language that only rapists can read.

Judge Dewar listed several reasons for this misinterpretation [that the victim consented], including that the victim and her friend were wearing tube tops, high heels and makeup; that the two had implied they might want to go skinny-dipping in a lake nearby and that the circumstances of their encounter with Mr. Rhodes and his friend were “inviting.”

That’s it? That’s all it takes? Except for the skinny-dipping part, then women have been consenting to have sex with me surprisingly frequently, and I’ve been missing all the signals and all the opportunities.

I’m thinking that maybe women just need to move out of the middle of the continent altogether. It doesn’t seem to be a very friendly place.


We have an informal request here at scienceblogs that everyone avoid putting profanity in our article titles, since those may appear on everyone’s site, and some people find it objectionable. Fair enough; unfortunately, in this case, all I could think of to put up there was a paragraph’s worth of obscenities. So I left it blank.

House Rethuglicans have just voted to deny all funding to Planned Parenthood.

As part of their stated mission to focus on jobs (specifically, the job of preventing women from getting healthcare), House Republicans this afternoon voted 240-185 to bar federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

This is a big win for Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican whose deficit-minded crusade against Planned Parenthood hinges not on the argument that taxpayer money shouldn’t pay for abortions (the Hyde Amendment put a stop to that in the mid 1970s), but on the conviction that taxpayer money should not go to organizations that provide abortion services, regardless of what else they might do.

Pence’s plan, which will likely stall in the Senate, would mean the end of federal support for an organization that each year provides more than 800,000 women with breast exams, more than 4 million Americans with testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and 2.5 million people with contraception, which, not for nothing, is the stuff that prevents unintended pregnancy, and thus abortion, to begin with.

Bastards. Mother-fucking evil bastards.

This is what we can expect from these lunatics in the Republican party — years and years of destructive policy-making, in which they’ll rip out the infrastructure of the country, demolish the social safety net, and criminalize everyone who isn’t a wealthy white man.

I can’t say more, because from here on out I just get screamingly angry. Watch this video to see someone calling these monsters out.

Then go support Planned Parenthood. Sign their open letter. Never vote for a Republican, and do everything you can to see that vile party eradicated.

It’s gonna be open season on abortion doctors in South Dakota!

I’m only a few miles away from the Dakotas — if HB1171 passes, I could put on some hospital scrubs (camouflage, you know), lurk quietly in a hospital, and when some ob-gyn pokes his or her head out, BAM, justifiable homicide.

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to provide for the protection of certain unborn children.
Section 1. That § 22-16-34 be amended to read as follows:
22-16-34. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.
Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:
22-16-35. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

They’ve still got to amend this thing, though. There’s no mention of a season or of bag limits.

As you might guess, this abomination of a law is the product of Republican legislators and their crazy far-right-wing allies.

The original version of the bill did not include the language regarding the “unborn child”; it was pitched as a simple clarification of South Dakota’s justifiable homicide law. Last week, however, the bill was “hoghoused”–a term used in South Dakota for heavily amending legislation in committee–in a little-noticed hearing. A parade of right-wing groups—the Family Heritage Alliance, Concerned Women for America, the South Dakota branch of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and a political action committee called Family Matters in South Dakota—all testified in favor of the amended version of the law.

Read the rest. South Dakota already has the most indefensibly restrictive set of abortion laws in the country, and last I heard, had no abortion doctors — they rely on a very few Minnesota doctors who regularly fly in to a few locations to deliver essential services. Now the South Dakota legislature is doing even more to discourage responsible reproductive health and is doing further harm to women in the state.

“the outworking of the corrosive nihilistic amorality that is inherent to evolutionary materialism”

The IDiots at Uncommon Descent are horrified and appalled by my ideas about the status of fetuses and babies … so horrified, in fact, that some of them want to make me the poster child for the fall of Western Civilization into a godless, nihilistic chaos in which babies are casually destroyed, and there are of course, a few comparisons to Hitler. But then, they are IDiots, after all.

I was amused by this remark from one of the deathcultists:

Sad to say, what we just saw from PZM, is the outworking of the corrosive nihilistic amorality that is inherent to evolutionary materialism. Hopefully, sufficient of us still have enough moral sensitivity to see the absurdity and the danger if this agenda is allowed to triumph in our civilisation.

Anyway, they found this list of the 25 most influential atheists, and fired off a questionnaire to all of them, looking to see if all atheists are as evil as I am, or whether I’m just the most evil of them all.

(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human? Yes/No

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person? Yes/No

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life? Yes/No

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them? Yes/No

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? Yes/No

As you can see, they’re blinded by an assumption that you can reduce a continuum of potential and actuality to black & white answers, which is the whole problem I’ve complained about before, and what they’ve written is actually a confirmation of my complaint about pro-lifers: they don’t think, and they don’t comprehend. They’ve gotten a few replies from those influential atheists, and most have fallen into the trap. I have to give James Randi credit for making the best answer:

I will not respond to such a heavily biased set of questions, and I could not do so without providing extensive explanations for my answers. The “quiz” is short, but the answers would be far too involved and lengthy.

I will simply repeat what I’ve said before, and not bother with their stupid poll. We all understand “being human” to mean something more than being a eukaryote with a certain assortment of genes: there are “fully human” cells that I will unconcernedly dump into the toilet and flush away every morning, and there are fully developed individuals in my life who I will revere and honor, and everything in between. The dehumanizing aspect of the so-called pro-life position is the flattening of the complexity of humanity and personhood, and its reduction to nothing more than possession of a specific set of chromosomes. To regard a freshly fertilized zygote as the full legal, ethical, and social equivalent of a young woman diminishes the woman; it does not elevate the zygote, which is still just a single cell. It is that fundamentalist Christian view, shallow and ignorant as it is, that is ultimately the corrosive agent in our culture, since it demands unthinking obedience to a rigid dogma rather than an honest evaluation of reality, and it harms the conscious agents who actually create and maintain our culture.

My position is one that demands we respect an organism for what it is, not what it isn’t. It recognizes that an epithelial cell shed from the lining of my colon is less valuable than a gamete is less valuable than a zygote is less valuable than a fetus is less valuable than a newborn. It does not imply that one must still adhere to the black & and white thinking of the IDiots and draw a line, and say that on one side of the line, everything is garbage that can be destroyed without concern, and on the other side, everything is sacred and must be preserved at all costs.

A seed is not a tree. That doesn’t imply that I’m on a crusade to destroy seeds.

The evolution of rape?

There are days when I simply cannot bear the entire field of evolutionary psychology: it’s so deeply tainted with bad research and a lack of rigor. And that makes me uncomfortable, because the fundamental premise, that our behaviors are a product of our history, is self-evidently true. It’s just that researchers in this field couple an acceptance of that premise to a deep assumption of adaptive teleology, the very thing that they should be evaluating, and produce some of the most awesomely trivial drivel.

I’ve just finished reading an article titled “Darwin’s Rape Whistle: Have women evolved to protect themselves from sexual assault?“, and it’s everything I despise about evolutionary psychology. It’s nothing but sloppy thinking and poor science propped up by a conviction that plausibility is sufficient support for certainty.

I could fulminate for a few hours over this crap, but fortunately Jerry Coyne has calmly criticized the mess, so I’ll just make a few points.

The story is that women have evolved specific adaptive responses to the threat of rape. In support of this conclusion, the author cites various studies that claim to show that ovulating women show stronger handgrip strength (the better to fight off men who want to assault their eggs with sperm), that ovulating women are more suspicious of men, that ovulating women are more likely to avoid risky behaviors, and that ovulating white women become more fearful of black men. I’m unimpressed. All of the studies involve small numbers, typically of college students at American universities (and even more narrowly, of psychology students), and all involve responses to highly subjective stimuli. When you examine the literature cited in these papers, you discover that different investigators get different results — the handgrip study even admits up front that there are conflicting results, with other papers finding no differences in performance across the menstrual cycle. None test anything to do with inheritance, none try (or even can) look at the genetic basis of the behaviors they are studying. Yet somehow evolutionary psychologists conclude that “women may have been selected during human evolution to behave in ways that reduce the likelihood of conception as a consequence of rape.”

Another way to look at it is that they are hypothesizing that women are more likely to behave in ways that invite physical attack and brutal abuse when they aren’t ovulating. That is a remarkable assertion. It also carries the strange implication that the consequences of rape can be measured by the likelihood of immediate fertilization, rather than by the toll of physical injury and emotional trauma, a peculiar thing for psychologists to neglect. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a general hypothesis that people, men and women, who can avoid violence at any time in their life, are more likely to be reproductively successful and thereby pass on their genes to subsequent generations? That’s all they’re saying, essentially, and the straining to sex it up by tying globally useful behaviors to reproductive cycles is unconvincing.

And of course they’re looking at culturally conditioned behaviors and responses in a narrow subset of the modern human population. How likely is it that a close-knit tribe of 30 hunter-gatherers has a serious problem with rape? Wouldn’t the nature of the culture be of far greater effect in determining the frequency of pregnancy due to rape than variations in handgrip strength or variations in fearfulness in women?

Then many of the studies that are described with such enthusiastic certainty as having definitive results turn out to be subjective, pointless messes. For instance, Jesse Bering concludes that sperm competition had to have been a very significant factor in our profligately promiscuous ancestors, and that the shape of the human penis has been selected specifically for a function in extracting competitor’s sperm from the vaginal canal. Unfortunately, when you look at the actual research cited for this semen-scooping function, it’s underwhelming.

To test this hypothesis, Gallup, Burch, Zappieri, Parvez, Stockwell, and Davis (2003) simulated sexual encounters using artificial models and measured the magnitude of artificial semen displacement as a function of phallus configuration, depth of thrusting, and semen viscosity. The displacement of simulated semen was robust across different prosthetic phalluses, different artificial vaginas, different semen recipes, and different semen viscosities. The magnitude of semen displacement was directly proportional to the depth of thrusting and inversely proportional to semen viscosity. By manipulating different characteristics of artificial phalluses, the coronal ridge and frenulum were identified as key
morphological features involved in mediating the semen displacement effect.

Under conditions that raise the possibility of females engaging in extra-pair copulations (i.e., periods of separation from their partner, allegations of female infidelity), Gallup et al. (2003) also found that males appear to modify the use of their penis in ways that are consistent with the displacement hypothesis. Based on anonymous surveys of over 600 college students, many sexually active males and females reported deeper and more vigorous thrusting when in-pair sex occurred
under conditions related to an increased likelihood of female infidelity.

Got that? They have studies that show that a piston displaces fluids more effectively in proportion to the depth of movement, and that college students report that when they suspect their partner of infidelity, they screw harder. They don’t have any evidence that this behavior actually affects the fertilization rate of one partner’s sperm over another, they don’t have any indication of morphological differences in human populations that make some individuals better semen-scoopers, they don’t have any evidence that this behavior has had a differential effect in human history. It’s all a teetering pyramid of stacked “couldas” and guesses that it woulda had an influence on evolution, if there were any variation and heritable factors involved in this function.

Whenever I see this kind of tripe from evolutionary psychologists, I reflexively reach for a counter-example, and recommend that everyone read one excellent book: The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, by Elisabeth Lloyd. It’s a wonderful example of solid, rigorous, scientific thinking about an evolutionary phenomenon. Lloyd analyzes a score of adaptive just-so stories about the female orgasm, carefully scrutinizing the evidence for each, and discovers that the substance is wanting. Too often investigators start with the assumption that a feature absolutely must have been selected for, or it wouldn’t be there, and then contrive elaborate rationalizations for processes that could have favored its preservation in our ancestry…and the aura of plausibility is then sufficient to conclude that it must be so, even in the absence of any supporting evidence, and sometimes even in the face of contradictory evidence.

I should reread it now — if nothing else, to wash that nasty tincture of evolutionary psychology out of my brain.


Jacqulyn Levin, a high school health education teacher, had a simple lesson plan to help students understand the anatomy of the female reproductive tract.

“She stood in front of the students,” district spokesman Jeff Puma said. “If you can picture a body builder flexing his arms and having his hands [above head level] out to the side, my hands would be the ovaries, my arms would be the fallopian tubes, and so on.”

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me — it’s a way to get the layout of the structures clear in students’ heads. I’ll be teaching human physiology this term, and I’ll just project photos and diagrams of the various ladybits and manbits on a giant screen in front of the auditorium — I don’t know if a public school could handle the level of detail I’ll be going into. Levin’s approach sounds like a good compromise.

But wouldn’t you know it…some parents in the school district freaked out.

King said his son objected to participating, and both he and his son objected to him being “forced” to participate.

“I’m all for scholastically based sex education,” King said. “But this dance is meant to take away modesty and is disrespectful to women.”

Oh, the poor widdle boy! Forced to pretend his manly muscled arms are womanly fallopian tubes! And oh, those poor little girls! Immodestly made aware of the existence of ovaries, ovaries that their mommies have told them to keep covered and hidden away!

This has become a cause for the Illinois Patriarchy Institute, who have taken a brief moment from their usually obsession with homosexuality to decry elementary sex education.

A couple of months ago Crystal Lake’s Prairie Ridge High School Health teacher Jacqulyn Levin decided that the best way to teach her co-ed class of sophomore students the parts of the female reproductive anatomy was to use something she called the “Vagina Dance.” To the tune of the Hokey Pokey, Levin led her class in a puerile dance that involved pointing to and singing about reproductive body parts while prancing about the classroom.

Her selection of this inappropriate instructional activity demonstrated a lack of empathy for those who may have a degree of modesty and self-respect that Levin does not possess. Did she consider that some students might feel uncomfortable participating in or even watching this dance and that they might fear being ridiculed if they chose to opt-out?

Her decision to use this dance as a teaching tool also reveals that she has no commitment to fostering modesty (please don’t be deceived by the attempt of “progressives” to conflate essential modesty with some kind of priggish, neurotic prudery). The very fact that a teacher would consider such an activity reflects how debased and immodest a culture we have. And it reveals that she has no regard for the values of all the families who have entrusted their children to her tutelage.

“Priggish, neurotic prudery”…why, they snatched the words right out of my mouth.

There is nothing immodest about the demonstration (which, by the way, the IFI portrays dishonestly and inaccurately). There is nothing titillating or arousing about fallopian tubes, any more than there is about the common bile duct or the duct of Wirsung or the epididymus, and if you’re getting aroused by hearing about any of those, or blushing in embarrassment at a generic discussion of guts, there’s something deeply wrong with you. I’d suspect the lunatic who wrote the above words of having some morbid paraphilia, actually.

Wanting to pretend that your insides have all the uniformity of a potato is not self-respect, it’s ignorance and denial. Those are things a school is supposed to correct, and I don’t think a school or the teacher should feel any remorse about politely instructing kids in the nature of reality.